theartsdesk Q&A: Musician Dan Treacy | New music reviews, news & interviews
theartsdesk Q&A: Musician Dan Treacy
A rare interview with cult indie-pop legend
It has been said that Dan Treacy (b. 1960) is the TV Personalities in the same way that Mark E Smith is The Fall. Certainly he has been the sole consistent member since they appeared in 1978 with the single "14th Floor" and subsequent cult hit "Part Time Punks". The early Eighties incarnation of the band, which included "Slaughter" Joe Foster and Ed Ball (later of The Times) has a claim to laying down the blueprint for British indie.
Treacy's recurring themes of childhood, Sixties culture, and lo-fi, punky psychedelia became scene staples as Creation kingpin Alan McGee has acknowledged. The early incarnations of the band peaked with the brilliantly gloomy album The Painted Word in 1984, an acerbic, bleak foray through the dark side of Thatcher's Britain, regarded by many as their greatest album.
The longest-standing line-up of the band, featuring Jeffrey Bloom on drums and Jowe Head, ex-Swell Maps, on bass, lasted from the mid-Eighties to the mid-Nineties and, with a cleaner, more commercial sound on Fire Records, seemed about to cross over. Mainstream success never came, though, and the group went on hiatus in 1996. Treacy disappeared amidst rumours of breakdown and drug abuse (further stirred up by his own song "Now That I'm A Junkie"), but not before firing out one last album of beauty and brilliance, the jovially titled I Was A Mod Before You Was A Mod.
The TVPs reappeared in 2006 signed to Domino Records. Treacy had been in prison and homeless on occasion over the preceding years. He had a heroin problem that was said to be behind him. When he put out the album My Dark Places, The Sun hilariously even featured him as a new face for 2006. It was lovely to have him back and in continental Europe, where Treacy is feted as a songwriting genius, his devoted coterie of fans were particularly enthused, many turning up at the few small gigs he initially played in the UK. Since then he has produced one very low key album, Are We Nearly There Yet? (2007) and now arrives with his best work since the Nineties, A Memory is Better than Nothing (reviewed here) as well as playing a very rare festival date at Lounge On The Farm on July 10th.
I have met Treacy many times over the years and count myself a fan. The mainstays of the TVPs for the last four years are Mike Stone on guitar and "Texas" Bob Juarez on bass. They have agreed to come with Dan to a pub near Alexandra Palace. I am warned that Treacy, an unpredictable and often wilfully obtuse character, is "feeling tired" but would be coming. He arrives with Juarez and Stone, a genial duo, admirers of his talent who are endlessly supportive of his many foibles. Treacy himself is dressed eccentrically in charity shop gear, a tweedy jacket, striped jumper and a pair of tight grey flares that stop well short of his ankles. He has on a beanie hat.
Our ensuing interview is not straightforward. We skirted from the very start around the spectre of heroin in his life. Dan veers randomly from charming to spiky, delusional to satirical. He sometimes greets questions with lethargic monosyllables or stares out of the window, but on other occasions volunteers precise historical detail. This, then, is not a precise potted chronology via an articulate spokesman. This is three hours in a pub with Dan Treacy, one of pop's most underrated songwriters, cited as influential by musicians from Kurt Cobain to Robbie Williams. England's last true cult songwriter talks to theartsdesk.
THOMAS H GREEN: You been keeping OK, Dan?
DAN TREACY: It's been difficult, the last couple of years. I'm not talking bandwise, a lot of issues going on.
Last time I saw you, round My Dark Places, you seemed to be coming out of your low times.
Oh, no, no, no, I never come out of those.
You never come out of them?
No, I'm stuck with it by the looks of it.
Isn't there a pathway out of the woods?
It's kind of ongoing, I put up with it, I've got no choice really.
When has music made you the most money?
First album and "Part Time Punks". I was absolutely minted, big record, big album. The money came too young. "Part Time Punks" done getting on 100,000, not that I see anything for it these days. I may do eventually.
Are you involved in ongoing actions to retrieve publishing monies?
It started to filter back through PRS. I've got to be careful what I say because the guy involved, I've wound him up enough, [He then goes on to talk extensively and almost certainly libellously about these issues].
Are you currently homeless, sofa-surfing?
Basically, yeah, for the last couple of years. I just can't put down roots at the minute, you know.
Do you have any family?
What's left of them. Not really. I keep in touch with my sister Patricia, she's still my best friend. She worries about me. She's out in Hounslow. I've got a nephew who invented these exercise boots. He's got his own TV show in Korea. I shouldn't really talk about my family, they might get a bit funny. My brother-in-law is still a mod at heart.
While the TVPs are a famously English institution there's a flavour of America in the sound of the new album.
You're probably right there. If you heard what I did last week, I recorded with Sterling Roswell who used to be in Spacemen 3. The guys in his band, you'd think they were American because they sound so American. I don't listen to a lot of music but I like a lot of stuff on Domino. I don't listen to music, full stop, I go out to gigs, just for want of something to do. The first gigs I ever saw were Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, stuff like that, and perhaps I'm coming back to that. I got a little but tired of the whole London mod-punk thing because I know there's a lot more to music than that. This album's taken two and a half years to get together. I let these guys get on with it more now. I have less and less to do with it. I'm going through my Andy Warhol period. Here's an idea, you play with it, see what you can come up with. Even on stage these days I manage to play songs without guitar. I like it, it frees me up a bit.
You just sing then?
After a fashion, yeah. I'm completely frustrated all the time, whatever I do. The finances, people say they're going to put money in but they never do. You've seen a lot of the publicity that goes on around me. Does he do this? Does he do that? Come on, I'm a bloody open book, but increasingly it becomes a bit of a freakshow. Not so much here but abroad. People see us here playing to 60 people. They wouldn't believe we're the same band who play in front of a sell-out 1200 in Paris. We've been offered a week in New York at the Knitting Factory. They want me to go through the whole history of the TVPs.
Are you up for that?
[Dourly] On a good day I'm game for anything but on a bad day I'm the rattiest bastard in the world.
That's an honest self-assessment.
Everyone else is honest about me. I just want to enjoy it, that's why I go out and watch a lot of young bands. I find myself writing songs about myself these days. On the new album there are a couple of songs about me, like "Funny He Never Married".
Your newer songs appear more personal, and there are less of the light-hearted "Little Woody Allen"-type numbers.
I don't go out of my way to write whacky funny songs but if I'm in a good mood, I will.
Your last album, Are We Nearly There Yet?, seemed like a bit of a stop-gap.
I like that album, I like it a lot. It wasn't a filler album, it was me having fun with a keyboard. I'd just started doing music again, playing with Edward Ball and Victoria [Yeulet]. It was just great fun, just a real blast. A lot of it was just me. I like doing that sometimes. I Was A Mod... was just me with Liam Watson from Toerag [Studios] playing some drums.
Are you driven to make music?
Not really. I don't even pick up a guitar unless there's one lying around.
In many of your lyrics, childhood is revered and idealised.
Yeah, it's good up to the age of 10. I didn't lose my innocence until a couple of years after that. I went to a famous Catholic nuns school, Servite in Fulham Road [in London]. I was taught to play guitar by nuns. Eleven was all right, even 12, but after 13 it all got a bit wet-towels-in-the-shower.
Yeah, and I didn't want to play rugby. I'd rather have been in the art class. Then I went to London Oratory in Fulham where the politicians' kids go, not a public school, you go home at four o'clock, a school that thought it was something it wasn't.
But it introduced you to art and pop art is always popping up in your songs.
It didn't get me into art at all. Being a kid brought up in Chelsea got me into art. Meeting David Bowie from the age of five got me into art.
Why did you meet David Bowie at the age of five?
Because I lived in Chelsea and my mum did everyone's dry cleaning in Chelsea. I'm not joking. It's become an Essex wives' tale but it's completely true. I was born in Chelsea and lived in the King's Road and, at the age of five, everything was going on there. I was a little mod. Both my sisters, who were eight and nine years older than me, used to dress me up. At the age of five I had a Ben Sherman, a little Parka, all of it.
Your childhood in Chelsea is a creative pool you continually draw on.
[Misunderstanding completely] It is now. I call it a squad system. If I can't make it [to a gig], it's not the end of the world, someone else will come in and play. Me and Mike did a gig one o'clock last Friday morning. He just happened to be there playing bass for some girl. A mate of mine, Scrappy Milk Kan, was supposed to play but he was too out of it so we offered to play and did a TVPs gig. I like it when we go abroad. It's fun in Spain, Italy, France, it's a chance to dress up and play a part. I like turning up, seeing all the kids outside the building, bunking them in through the back door. Can't do that over here, I'd get some big bruiser chucking me out of the gig before I'd even done it. If I walk round Whitechapel or Camden I get stopped all the time. People know me. It's ridiculous.
Stopped by who?
People who know us. Recently there's been a lot of press. I've never had my photo used so much in all my bloody life. Lately it's really got... the album's coming out in Japan, America...
The new album's coming out of Rocket Girl but when you reappeared in 2006 you were on Domino, home to Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand.
That was a one-off, Laurence [Bell, Domino MD] being a really great guy. I've known Laurence for an age. He was at Fire [Records] when I was there except he had his own little label, Roughneck. He used to get treated like shit. I used to say, "Laurence, you'll have your own label one day." He said, "You bet I will." He knew what I'd been through. He didn't even contact me directly. He asked someone to ask me if I'd be interested. I'd done some recording. Mike had put the money up. I met ["Texas"] Bob at a Syd Barrett convention [Barrett was Pink Floyd's original frontman who suffered a breakdown and retired to notorious reclusiveness in the 1970s. He died in 2006]. He came up and introduced himself. I stayed round his house. Next night he introduced me to Mike. We've been together ever since. I'm not going to talk figures but the deal Laurence gave me for one album and the publishing gave me more than a step up. I've had people say to me, "Domino dropped you after one album," No, it wasn't like that. There was no deal for more than one album. It was Laurence saying, "Dan, I'm going to trust you on this - see what you can come up with." He loved it. They put it out in America where, after the Arctic Monkeys and maybe The Kills, it was their best-selling album for that year.
Are you in contact with Jowe Head, who was your sparring partner in the band for over a decade?
Not really. I bump into him occasionally but we haven't really got much in common these days. They're trying to get him to play on my birthday but I'm determined not have a birthday party.
I'm not going into all that stuff. I've got to concentrate on getting to the day in question and the rate I'm going I might not even get there.
That remark and the one earlier about being a freakshow - it all sounds a bit doom-laden.
No, no, not at all. I wouldn't have got to this age if I was doomed. I was just talking about people who turn up wondering, "Is he going to fall over tonight?" I don't know where half these stories come from. Yeah, I've fallen over and collapsed on stage before, usually because I've got tinnitus in this ear. Alright, drink is involved sometimes, maybe other things are involved sometimes...
Sometimes you don't perform at all, of course.
Oh, that's very rare.
There have been a few occasions.
Not too many.
Were you amused when MGMT put a number on their recent second album called "Song for Dan Treacy"?
I knew they were doing it. They're lovely, really sweet guys. They were more embarrassed than me about doing it. It's a really nice song even if it does sound like The Libertines - which it does - but they know that. I've written two songs for them but they haven't heard them yet.
You didn't turn up at your recent MGMT support slot.
These guys [indicates "Texas" Bob and Mike Stone] played with them a couple of months ago at the Astoria. I didn't because, annoyingly enough, I was in an ambulance at the time. I just sat in it, I didn't go to hospital. I collapsed in Whitechapel.
Your health isn't all it could be.
[Dan stares out of the window for a while]
Kurt Cobain was a TVPs fan. It could be said that, like the Velvet Underground, you don't have a massive amount of fans but those that are all start bands.
I don't know if the Velvet Underground are fans. I was a fan of them.
No, what I meant was...
I know [Velvet Underground drummer] Mo Tucker likes the TVPs a lot. She told me.
What I meant...
I met Mo and Nico.
Nico had similar problems to yourself.
She got over them then fell off her bike and died. Not the way I want to go.
She seemed to have a bleak outlook on life.
She was great company. We played with her in Berlin. The first time I went abroad was Berlin 1980, me, Joe Foster and our 16-year-old drummer Mark ["Empire" Sheppard] - he's now a Hollywood actor - he was in The X Files. Berlin was a big eye-opener, I was pretty naïve in those days. Then the following summer we played twice more, then the year the Wall came down we played in July in the biggest park in old East Berlin: 70,000 people were there watching - Russian heavy metal and the Scorpions. Theatre of Hate were playing... or was it Spear Of Destiny? One of Kirk Brandon's groups, anyway, and we were the only other English band. We got to the hotel and we knew Nico was playing. Everyone was saying she wasn't going to turn up but Rough Trade had booked her to do the gig and us too. Me and Joe Foster were saying, "Wouldn't it be amazing if we met Nico?" I was a big fan of the Velvet Underground, still am, always will be. After the first night we came down to breakfast and she walked in, glided into the room, huge, she looked about seven foot although I know she wasn't. She sat in the corner. The band playing with her were the Blue Orchids from Manchester. They'd never met her before. All they had was a cassette tape of "Waiting for the Man" and a few other songs that they had to learn. We sat with them at breakfast at seven am and they were laughing and joking, being boys. They'd had a couple of prostitutes the night before and were drinking beer for breakfast, going on about Nico, "Ah, who's she?" She walked in and they shat themselves. Me and Joe were totally in awe. Mark, being 16, went straight over to her.
Half an hour later he's calling us over so we ended up having breakfast with her, lunch with her, afternoon tea with her, a lot of things with her. She was just great, really nice. We played at about five o'clock and she played after us. The Blue Orchids - she didn't want to know them. After three songs she just told them to fuck off. She got the harmonium out, did the rest of the gig on that. Twenty minutes later she's being bottled offstage. She did the old German national anthem, "Deutschland über Alles". In Germany they don't sing the first verse but she sang it and the bottles started flying. There must have been one German policeman for every person in the park. We were backstage and weren't allowed to go out there. They threatened us with violence and told us to go back to the dressing room. That was July 1989. We also played on the night the wall came down. The night before the Lemonheads were playing - that's where I met Evan Dando [as mentioned in the TVP's song "Evan Doesn't Ring Me Anymore"]. Rumours were going round that the wall would come down in two or three weeks, then rumours said it'd be that night, and it was. The gig was 400 yards away and everyone was running up to the Brandenburg Gate. I saw the first brick come out and there was a journalist there, John Robb, so he can vouch for all this.
Over the years you've had your ups and downs with Alan McGee.
I've never had a bad word to say about Alan. Tongue in cheek, maybe, about what a nuisance he is but recently he's been an absolute fucking rock for me. I've never had any fall-outs with Alan.
But it's been well-documented - especially in David Cavanagh's excellent book My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For the Prize: The Creation Records Story - that there was a rivalry between you in the early Eighties when you were both promoting nights in London.
No, no, one of Alan's first London gigs was the TVPs. He just turned up at this club on the Strand, The Coalhole, a TVPs comeback gig in '84. McGee turned up, he was working for British Rail at the time. It was the TVPs, Sex Gang Children and Direct Hits, a modern mod band. People don't realise that Creation Records 001 was the TVPs.
I thought it was by The Legend! [pseudonym of music journalist Jerry Thackray AKA Everett True: it was!]
No it was a flexi-disc on [McGee's fanzine] Communication Blur, that was Alan's first release [Communication Blur No 2 had a cover-mounted TVPs flexi 7" containing a cover of Sixties pop art band the Creation's "Biff Bang Pow" and a live version of their own "A Picture of Dorian Gray". It was, however, prior to the start of Creation Records]. He came round my flat in Clapham Common on a Friday and he was still there a week later. I left him there and used to go out. He kept disappearing to the spare room next door. Little did I know that he was doing next door what I was doing next door. If we'd have known we could have done it together. What I'm alluding to is that he was a speed freak and, basically, I was too. I've never had a bad word to say about Alan. Bit of jealously on my part but I never went public with it. People say to me, "How come he's got all this, not you?" Come on, this guy was a bigger visionary - I'd have never seen Oasis and thought, "That could be the biggest band." I'd have thought the Mighty Lemon Drops or 1000 Violins [late Eighties Sheffield indie popsters]. 1000 Violins could have been a huge band and then one of them died which didn't help [keyboard player David Walmsley succumbed to cancer in 1992]. Amazingly Primal Scream are still alive. Amazingly there's not a dead TVP yet which is quite incredible when you think about all the people who've played in the TVPs, let alone me.
The TVPs haven't got through quite as many as The Fall.
They don't die either, they just fade away.
It could be said that what the TVPs were doing became a template for Eighties indie, a bridge between punk and what came next.
Yeah, but I can name what started me off - Swell Maps, Nikki Sudden who's dead now, his brother Epic [Soundtracks, AKA Kevin Godfrey] who's dead now, Jowe's still alive, Desperate Bicycles, Thomas Leer, Robert Rental, Small Wonder Records, they were my template. I remember Ed [Ball] and I taking "14th Floor", my first single, down Harrow Road to Small Wonder. They were putting out CRASS, Poison Girls. I remember thinking, "This is a damn sight more interesting than other stuff I'm hearing at the moment."
The people you mention prided themselves in record company independence, being more punk than punk.
I didn't have anything to do with punk except that my mum used to do all their bloody washing and I lived across the road from them [Treacy's family home on King's Road was just across from Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's shop Sex, where the nascent Sex Pistols were nurtured]. I used to come home from school when I was 14 with [early punk style icon] Jordan and this girl who used to hang around with the Pistols but died young, Trisha O'Keefe - she died of cancer aged 18. Jordan was the first punk in London, Pam her name is. I'd be on the bus coming home from school and at 14 I was being picked on, no one had time for me. She'd get on the 11 bus at Fulham Broadway and I'd be sitting next to this amazing beehive-stacked mascara'd bird with a see-through top. She'd be holding my hand and stuff. Some of the guys at school looked at me thinking, "What the fuck?" They started to notice me after that.
Were you shy at school?
I was different, just different. They had me down as shy. I was the one at the back of the class who knew all the answers but couldn't be bothered to put his hand up, except in English and maths. In maths I've got this weird thing about numbers, a bit freaky, but whenever it was swimming or rugby I'd just refuse to do it, always bunk off with earache. Just for fun I'd do this thing with a calculator. Give me any number and sum and I can do it. One of the guys went and told the maths teacher. I was in the bottom class. "Miss, you won't believe what Treacy can do," so I did.
You're a maths prodigy on the quiet.
Yeah, I am a maths prodigy. English and maths is all they should teach at school.
Have you ever thought about writing literature rather than songs?
Oh, I've done all that. Photography's what I've been doing lately. Someone gave me a lend of a camera. It's what I always wanted to do - journalism, photography, architecture, never music. I wrote a screenplay. It's kind of a pub singer ghost story. I had people lined up for it - [septuagenarian British actor] Dudley Sutton, the Arctic Monkeys, I even had John Hurt interested in it, believe it or not. The whole basis of the story is he gets to the age of 70 but he can't ever reach the high note, just like Johnny Ray when he was getting past it. Dudley Sutton's wife has died two nights before his last show and then [Arctic Monkeys singer] Alex Turner, his godson, does one of his songs and it becomes a hit. It sounds like Love Actually..,. actually I quite like that film... Martine McCutcheon. So on the last night he can't reach that last note and his wife appears and says, "Go out there," so he does one more song with Arctic Monkeys playing. He reaches that last note then he goes to the dressing room and his wife says, "It's time now," and he goes. It's a ghost story, a love story. Laurence at Domino loved it. I have the song written, sounds a bit like Roy Harper, "When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease" - when an old pub singer leaves the pub.
After punk rock there were all sorts of unwritten rules about "selling out".
There were rules before punk rock.
Yes, but there were ideas around like you shouldn't sign to a major label.
Sorry, forgot the question already, I can't deal with long questions.
"TEXAS" BOB: Didn't you dream of being on Harvest, EMI, with the Incredible String Band?
I didn't dream of that. That was the whole point. I lived in Chelsea, I was surrounded by Bowie, Bryan Ferry, The Who playing Poulton Square. When I was seven I was going with my brother-in-law delivering TVs to Keith Moon to throw out of the window. He did one while I was there. I thought, have you got a small one I can throw out?
And as a teenager you worked for Led Zeppelin's company Swan Song as an office boy.
Yeah, because my mum was doing the washing for them...[looks out of window and mumbles something incomprehensible about Maggie Bell, the Scottish blues-rock belter signed to Swan Song]
Thirty years ago you wrote in the song "Jackanory Stories", "Just like life there's a good beginning but there is no middle so you may as well skip to the end." Do you still feel that way?
I probably did when I wrote it. I was probably having a dig at someone. I might come across as a pessimist but, believe me, I get up and face the day. Sometimes I don't even go to sleep so I do have to face the day. Maybe I was looking in the mirror when I wrote those lines. I was 20 then and I was innocent, very innocent.
There's footage of you on YouTube flitting around a room as Genesis P Orridge and David Maxx of Psychic TV strum a version of Syd Barrett's "Dark Globe".
That was in some hotel in Rome. I met Genesis 30 years ago but I didn't know him. All those people on Rough Trade, I didn't know them because I didn't mix with them. Apart from Nikki [Sudden] and Epic [Soundtracks] they were never in my life, they were looking at me looking at them. I'm not on a bloody nostalgia trip, they've all got wives and kids, good for them.
You're never tempted to settle down?
Hardly a temptation, is it? It's not a career move.
You stayed with one girl for ages, Alison "Wonderland" Withers, the photographer.
She wasn't a photographer when I met her, she was a librarian. I turned her onto photography with a £3000 camera I found on the underground. I also found two pairs of binoculars, three grand in dollars and five American passports in a bag. I handed the passports in. I found this bag, looked in it and thought, "I've got to get out of here." Just in time. They stopped the train and the staff were running round obviously looking for this bag. I got out, had a couple of stiff drinks and walked past the ICA. Now I always go into an art gallery, places to meet attractive women, or men, whatever you're up to. Stand behind them and say, "I recognise what Picasso's trying to say here." I bumped into John Hurt coming out and had a chat. I told him that I knew Quentin Crisp, probably better than he did, because he used to live opposite us. My mother remembered him from when she was young. Her adoptive parents told her not to talk to that guy. I was 14 and saw him at a bus stop. He looked a bit strange. I couldn't help but go up and talk to him, me and Edward Ball.
Did your mum have a relaxed attitude to Bohemian people?
She was very naïve and didn't know any different. She got dumped by her mother at birth, brought up by nuns in Torquay, ended up in Chelsea doing the washing. We lived at 484A King's Road next to Granny Takes A Trip. I'd be in the laundry during the summer holidays. They'd all be in. I was running cocaine for John-Paul Jones at 16 and he was the quiet one in the band, cleaning up after Jimmy Page's black magic parties at 17. At 16 I went round to [Led Zeppelin tour manager] Richard Cole's to deliver a package. He let me in, Edith Grove, near where the Stones lived. There was a Swedish or Norwegian girl naked on a leopard skin rug. Richard Cole comes to the door, takes the package off me, goes to the kitchen. I just stood there. He gave me some money. He said to the girl, "Give this boy anything he wants, he's alright." He left me alone with her. He went off on tour and I stayed there two days. I still didn't lose my virginity.
There's a lovely melancholic song on the new album called "Except for Jennifer".
That's my ode to the [Zombies] album Odessey and Oracle. Also, when I was 17, 18, after Led Zeppelin, I did care work. I really liked the idea of working for people not as well off as ourselves. I trained for about a year to be a care worker in a college in Paddington. It was night work with children with different problems, needs and special needs. After six months they wouldn't have me. They said I was getting too close to the children. A couple of children, nine or 10 years old, whenever I came in, they'd immediately run to me. They knew I'd give them a bit of chocolate and extra cuddles but you're not allowed to do that in care work, there's guidelines and rules. I didn't write a song about it at the time but it came back to me.
One of the places where the TVPs intersected with mainstream popular culture...
What? I haven't got a clue what you're talking about. Speak to my legal advisers.
One of the occasions when the TVPs had an opportunity to burst into the broader mainstream was when you were offered a support slot with Dave Gilmour in 1984 but on the first night you announced Syd Barrett's real Cambridge address to the audience and were dropped from the tour.
It's no big deal, Dave Gilmour was very polite about it. Syd's mother was left the [TVP's] single "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives", not by me, by a lovely girl called Ozzie who did a painting of him at art school. She went down to Cambridge and found his home in St Margarets Square. Syd's mum played him the single. He liked the B-side, "Arthur the Gardener". She said he liked that one because he loved gardening.
This whole thing with Syd Barrett, this fascination people have with him - does it ever occur to you that the "freakshow" you refer to around yourself might be the same kind of thing?
Yeah, but it's the same with everyone. It's the same with me, the same with Pete Doherty.
Yes, but Syd Barrett's mind was partly derailed by massive use of LSD whereas your narcotic problems lie in a different direction.
I didn't know I had any problems.
You implied at the beginning of this interview...
We've all got problems.
...that you had a burden to bear.
Using heroin, as I understand it.
Oh, that's subtle.
Well, you were avoiding the elephant in the room.
As well as manic depression, thrombosis, an ulcer, a heart murmur. I'd just like to have the money in my bank to get on with my life without asking anyone for anything.
Do you think you'll ever move away from guitar music?
I did on Are We Nearly There Yet?. There's no guitars on that, just a little keyboard. I'm sick to death of guitars, I'm through with them. I played last week and thought, "What's this round my neck?" I'll take them to busk and make some money but I've gone as far as I can go with them. I can't be arsed.
In your career there are missing years, approximately 1998 to 2005.
I was down the shops. I just went to buy a suit and got sidetracked.
I Was A Mod Before You Was A Mod came out and then...
That was a spelling mistake. It was supposed to be called, I Was a Goth.
It's quite a jolly album in places.
[Sarcastically] I often make a cup of tea and listen to it.
Well, compared to The Painted Word.
I think The Painted Word is quite a happy album.
The new album is melancholy but whereas the sadness on The Painted Word is all projected onto other people's stories, on A Memory Is Better than Nothing it seems more personal.
I wish I'd stayed on to the sixth form, then I'd understand what you were talking about.
The new album, once again, has a wistful longing for childhood innocence. Even the cover image of the overflowing toybox.
That was by our friend Rachel Smith. I don't want to employ anyone corporate. I don't want someone saying, "I did that for Kasabian, I did this for the Editors." Oh please! Bob's kids Jessica and Jimmy did the cover of Are We Nearly There Yet? We'd have had to pay some corporate advertising person to come up with that - "Let's see through the eyes of a child." No, let's give it to a four-year-old girl and get her to do it. The next album will have lots of naked women on it. Electric Danland. We're surrounded by beautiful women wherever we go. I had this beautiful woman come up to me in Whitechapel the other week. She said, "You don't recognise me, do you?" I said, "Yeah, I do, what gig was it?" She said, "No, I arrested you a year ago - how are you doing? Keeping your nose clean?" I said, "Yeah, yeah, my nose is clean."
Are you in and out of trouble with the law?
No, not at all, I don't do anything to break the law.
You did have severe troubles a few years ago. You ended up on a prison boat.
That was great, that was a holiday. They put me there because they felt sorry for me. It was five or six weeks, I didn't kill anyone.
I don't know what you did, though, and I've asked you before to no avail so I probably never will.
I had a job stock-checking and stock-taking. I checked the stock in a certain shop, asked some other shop what they'd like, then went back and took the stock.
I've got to stop this now. People think I was in prison for eight years. I wasn't. I was in Brixton four times for shop-lifting, two, three, four weeks at a time, then on the last time they sent me to the ship in Portsmouth. It was getting a bit rough in Brixton. The boat was an open house in dry dock. We used to go to the library. They got me a guitar and keyboards. They recognised in me - "He'll be alright, give him a chance, we won't see him again." Touch wood, I haven't been back again.
That was said with clarity.
I do have my clarity moments.
I know you do.
Also I do have a heroin problem. It's everybody's business because people ask me about it. You've asked me about it. It's public knowledge. I don't mind, it sells records in the end, gets people to gigs.
I would hope people didn't come to the gigs because of that.
These days our fans are generally our friends.
Do you have a favourite TVPs album?
Yeah, the next one.
Tell me about your dad.
He's dead. I knew him as doing road work but it turned out he had four books filled with poetry. He was a Daniel as well. He left me one of the books. You're on the home stretch [with the interview] now but I've got the night to face.
Why "to face", there's surely nothing daunting?
It would be better if I'd gone to Camden and got some money I'm owed but I didn't, I came here.
I think I understand.
It'd make my life a damn sight easier if I accepted one of the publishing offers currently on the table, a couple of grand in my pocket. Robbie Williams is interested in my music. He voted "Geoffrey Ingram" his second favourite song of all time. I like Robbie Williams, I'm a huge fan. I've got a lot of time for him and George Michael and Chris Martin as well.
I don't know if they're all familiar with your work.
Oh, they are, they are...
theartsdesk is changing
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. In September we reached our fourth birthday and feel that the time is now right, in line with other media outlets, to start asking our regular readers for a contribution to help us develop the site further. Theartsdesk has therefore moved to a partial subscription model. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
Take an annual subscription now simply click here.
more New music
An entertaining if unsatisfactory trawl through folk music's recent history and current popularity
A live curio from 1970 and a smart box of seven-inch singles
Decade-old Conor Oberst seasonal corker receives belated TAD review
R Kelly's new album is certainly a nadir, but it's by no means the only awful album cover
The original American Idol gets theartsdesk's festive music roundup underway
Few answers from America’s one-man embodiment of the early Seventies
After decades in obscurity, the enigmatic California folkie makes her first ever European performance
Unpleasant R&B insight into a drearily atavistic masculine psyche
Erstwhile firebrand proves the political passions are smouldering with a new set of Americana-influenced songs
Britney on video: a saga of salacious self-objectification and hyper-kitsch
Songs for soundtracks from shoegaze-influenced Bristol five-piece
Presumably the last word on 'White Light/White Heat' and the definitive collection of Texan Sixties stars